Toby Keith's I Love This Bar & Grill closed its doors for good Thursday afternoon in Rosemont's entertainment district after the management accused workers of stealing autographed memorabilia and liquor once they got word of the bar's imminent closure.
The Daily Herald reported online Wednesday afternoon on Rosemont officials' plans to replace the country megabar with another country-inspired venue, a joint venture of Joe's Bar on Weed Street and Lettuce Entertain You's Bub City. Toby Keith's closure could have happened as early as Saturday.
Toby Keith's Rosemont General Manager Larry Vanni said once the story came out and began circulating online, he had a meeting with his staff.
"We begged them to be professional so we could all get through this," Vanni said. "Some of them took it to the extreme, and they trashed us. A few bad eggs ruined it for everybody."
Vanni believes six or seven of the 50 staff members who were working Wednesday night stole items from the bar, including memorabilia autographed by Toby Keith, the country music star who has a license agreement with bar owner Boomtown Entertainment for use of his name. Some of the bar's alcohol supply also was raided, Vanni said.
He said the kitchen staff walked out, some employees harassed customers, and others "got intoxicated and stupid."
The 32,900-square-foot bar/restaurant was cleaned and reopened by 11 a.m. Thursday, but Vanni decided to close the business for good by 2 p.m. for safety reasons.
"The only reason we're closing is because we couldn't trust staff to show up and do their jobs professionally," he said.
Mayor Brad Stephens said police came to the bar Thursday afternoon to take a report. He added that the bar has video surveillance cameras.
The premature closure comes less than two hours after the conclusion of a court hearing in which attorneys for the bar and village agreed the business would close its doors by 11:59 p.m. Oct. 31.
The bar's lease with the village expires Dec. 31, but the village's attorneys went to court to get the bar out sooner because of owed rent, property taxes and sales taxes.
Boomtown Entertainment, based in Phoenix, owes $311,595 in Cook County real estate taxes for 2014, including late fees, and $125,000 in October rent to the village, officials say.
The company's checks sent to the Cook County treasurer's office bounced, village officials say.
The problems at the Rosemont Toby Keith's mirrors the story at other locations nationwide. With the Rosemont location's closure, only two remain -- in Massachusetts and Michigan -- from about 20 when the chain started in 2009.
During the hearing in Cook County court Thursday morning, Boomtown attorney Audrey Mense sought a three-week delay in the proceedings, giving Boomtown CEO Frank Capri time to find a new attorney.
"Individuals in the company have been removed for wrongdoing," Mense said. "Money is coming back in the door and they're trying to get back on their feet."
On speaker phone during court, Capri said he believes his original long-term lease -- a 10-year deal with options for two five-year extensions -- was wrongfully terminated last year by the village and replaced with a one-year lease for 2015.
Village Attorney Thomas Bastian said the one-year lease was agreed to in exchange for the village dropping its original 2014 eviction suit against Boomtown.
Vanni said employees should receive their final checks in the mail. Managers will be at the bar over the next two weeks to clean the facility and prepare to return it to the village. Remaining food will be donated to a food pantry.
"(The closure) is better for everybody right now -- for the owners, staff and village," Vanni said. "We do have control of the building the next two weeks and we'll be landing the plane here, as rough as it is, to make sure it's ready for the mayor."